This article was published originally on Jspace News on August 9, 2012.
Born Karola Ruth Siegel in Wiesenfeld Germany to Orthodox Jewish parents, the woman affectionately known as Dr. Ruth lived through the Holocaust, the birth of Israel, and the advent of Twitter—where she maintains a healthy presence. The iconic sex guru and cultural fixture has spread sexual education through television, print, radio, and the Internet. Jspace caught up with Dr. Ruth to talk about her attachment to Israel, Jewish sexual philosophy, and the best lovers in the world.
Jspace: You were orphaned at an early age, and then severely injured during the Israeli War for Independence, yet you fearlessly moved around the world and have made a global impact in your field. How did you find the strength to persevere through challenges?
Dr. Ruth: First of all, because of the challenges, I have a strong belief and strong conviction that I have an obligation to contribute something to the world, since I was saved and a million and half Jewish children were murdered. I did not know that it would be talking about sex, but I certainly do believe that I was fortunate to be very well trained with a doctorate from Columbia University.
This spring I’m teaching a graduate course at Teacher’s College Columbia University on the family as depicted in television, movies, and Internet. I always try to do something new. I just taught six years at Princeton and Yale, and now that that has run its course as an adjunct, I’m going to be teaching at Columbia.
I think part of why I can do what I’m doing is because I’m very Jewish. I did a book called “Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition” with Jonathan Mark a few years ago, and I believe I can talk so openly about sex because I am very Jewish. In the Jewish tradition, sex has never been a sin; sex has always been considered an obligation between married people of course, but never anything that is sinful.
In honor of the Olympics, you recently shocked your followers with the news that you were a sniper in Israel. What was that time like in your life?
I went to then-Palestine in 1945 after having been in an orphanage in Switzerland for six years. I went to a kibbutz, and all 47 of us living there were trained in some area of warfare. I was very, very lucky that I was in the Haganah, which was the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces. And for some reason that I cannot explain, they found out that I’m a very good sniper. So I became a sniper. I know how to throw hand grenades.
I’ve never killed anybody, but I was badly wounded on my 20th birthday in Jerusalem on both of my legs and I’m fortunate there was a wonderful German-Jewish surgeon. So I was wounded very early in the game in 1948 on June 4.
I go back to Israel every single year. I do documentaries. I did a documentary about the Bedouin living in Israel, about the Druze, about the Ethiopian Jews. I did a documentary for the Joint Distribution Committee on the training of the Haredim, of the very Orthodox men who go to the army and the women trained to be computer analysis.
I was most recently in Israel for President Shimon Peres’ conference Tomorrow. I did a master class about the future of sexuality and sex education. I had to switch the room because the room they gave me was too small. I had 600 people in the audience, so I had to be in a larger auditorium of the Knesset.
In your opinion, how important is it for Jews to marry other Jews?
I would not say that it is important. It’s important to marry a person that is compatible with you and if somebody adheres to the Jewish tradition, then the partner has to know that and hopefully might convert to Judaism. It’s just important that these things be discussed before children arrive and also before there are problems. So I’m not against intermarriage, I just think it’s easier if both of the couple agrees ahead of time on how the children will be raised.
Are there particular issues that seem to face Jewish couples as opposed to other religions?
It’s all the same?
Absolutely. The same problems of boredom, of being stressed, of not having time, of problems with mother-in-laws. It’s not different in the Jewish tradition.
How has modern technology—from sexting to Facebook-inspired divorces—changed relationships over the years?
Texting, for example, takes away from communicating with each other. If both sit over dinner and text there’s very little communication between the two of them. There’s very little talk. So of course, any of this modern social media, has an impact on the relationship. People have to be aware of the danger of not having enough conversation topics if they’re all involved in their own texting.
Specifically for our Jspace daters, how can you make a meaningful connection online?
First of all I would say I’m all for dating services. The time has passed when parents are able to introduce their children to future spouses. However, it’s very important to not only rely on the Internet but to meet, and very important to make sure that people are safe. So I tell them never to meet in a secluded place, but to meet in hotel lobbies, in restaurants, and places that are public.
But make sure that this whole idea of maybe there’s somebody better out there is put into perspective, because otherwise we’re going to have a whole generation of people in their 40s and 50s who haven’t found a partner because of unfulfilled and unrealistic expectations. Real romance isn’t what we see on television. That’s stories, that’s film. Reality looks different.
You recently tweeted that you’d go out with Christian Grey. Why do you think so many women are in love with a fictional character?
Forget about the sadistic part of it—pass over those pages. We live in a materialistic society, and the guy not only has money, he has a plane, a motorboat, he has everything! What he does have, in addition to his affliction of adultery and I would like him to go see a psychiatrist on his sadistic impulses, but he certainly has a way of treating women. And the women that did get involved with him were free not to do so. He didn’t rape anybody, he didn’t force anybody, so I think a combination of all of that is what makes it such fun to read.
You’ve lived in Israel and Paris and New York. What country has the best lovers?
All of these countries have wonderful lovers. The idea that the French are the best lovers is not true. The Americans have the best scientifically validated data about human sexual functioning. Women in the United States certainly have heard people like me, I’m not the only one, keep saying that they have to take the responsibility for their own sexual satisfaction. That they first have to masturbate in order to know what they need. Even here, with all the research that we have from Masters and Johnson, Kinsey, and Kaplan, who trained me, we need more research. We need more research in terms of how to do sex education and also how to treat sexual dysfunction.
Turning to gender roles, is there anything you deem not ladylike or gentlemanlike? Or are terms like that obsolete?
Certainly not obsolete. I’m now 84. I do believe in equal pay for equal work, but I still want the man to open the door for me. I think that it’s a ridiculous thing to say ‘I don’t need that.’ Certain things are very nice in terms of old-fashioned manners. And that translates also into the bedroom.
What’s the most erotic Jewish food?
Chicken soup with matzo balls is the most erotic Jewish food because it makes you think of your grandparents, it makes you think of tradition, and who knows, there might be some sexually arousing material in a chicken soup.